Does God guarantee healing to every believer?
(Free from sickness, suffering, and pain?)

The quick answer to this question is an unquestionable "yes!" but not in the way it has been misconstrued by certain sects and individuals in the church. Consider this Old Testament prophetic passage concerning Jesus...

Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV)

"By his [Jesus'] wounds we are healed". This is an absolute statement, not a conditional statement. Those who claim it guarantees a life free from sickness end up adding conditions to this, typically "as long as you have enough faith", because they know that believer can and do get sick. Further still, the believer that has a chronic condition, a genetic condition, or a presently incurable disease that subsequently leads to their death; they by implication or outright assertion are relegated to the ranks of those who "just never have enough faith." Again, what they have missed is that God's statement regarding healing is that "by his wounds we ARE healed"! Every single believer will be healed by Jesus' sacrifice. End Note 1

Some have tried to turn this absolute statement of complete healing into being only in regards to spiritual healing. Undeniably this is an element of that statement, but it certainly is not the fullness of it. The salvation found in Jesus Christ is not merely in regards to our spirit/soul, it is our entire being including our body. Some early heresies and non-Christian religions even held this extreme dichotomy, claiming that the spirit/soul was or could be good, but the body was evil. This is never in view throughout Scriptures. God, through Jesus, saves people - body, soul and spirit.

Philippians 3:20-21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (NIV)

This future transformation of our bodies will be the fulfillment of God's absolute promise of healing to all believers. Even believers from the earliest times were aware of this future promise that we will stand restored in the presence of our Redeemer. While one ancient righteous man (Job 1:1, 8) suffered great physical affliction (Job 2:4-9) - for no other than God's glory and purposes - he was comforted with this fact:

Job 19:25-27 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see him with my own eyes - I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (NIV)

If Paul and the early church held that immediate and absolute healing was available to every believer, why would Luke have continued to be known as a doctor (physician)?:

Colossians 4:14 Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. (NIV)

God can take away sickness, if He so desires. God can also send sickness as He so desires for His purposes. This fact is seen in God's dealings with Israelites as given at the time of the Exodus.

Exodus 23:25-26 Worship the Lord your God, and his blessing will be on your food and water. I will take away sickness from among you, 26 and none will miscarry or be barren in your land. I will give you a full life span. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 7:15 The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 28:59-60 the Lord will send fearful plagues on you and your descendants, harsh and prolonged disasters, and severe and lingering illnesses. 60 He will bring upon you all the diseases of Egypt that you dreaded, and they will cling to you. (NIV, also 29:21-22)

Sickness is also biblically shown to be part of the natural order of things in this fallen world - even for believers. In one of Jesus' parables he commends and rebukes people for how they were treating His "brothers". While the term "brothers" could be loosely applied to all people, it certainly is a valid specific characterization of believers (i.e. Romans 8:17; Hebrews 2:11). It is these "brothers" that are sick and in need of care and being looked after. Nowhere in this parable is there a hint that Jesus would have all these ill individuals rebuked for lack of faith in not having experienced full and immediate healing...

Matthew 25:34-46 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' 44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' 45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' 46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (NIV)

The apostles, who where granted extraordinary abilities as signs to authenticate their apostleship End Note 2, were still limited in regards to sickness. They were limited by God's will! In some cases God enabled the immediate and dramatic healing of every person that came to them, including unbelievers, even as Jesus had done End Note 3, while at another time a believing brother and friend remained sick to the point of death. The implication of this latter narrative was that it was a protracted illness with a slow recovery. Both of these are examples pertaining to Paul:

Acts 28:7-9 There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and for three days entertained us hospitably. 8 His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9 When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. (NIV)

Philippians 2:25-27 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. (NIV)

Why would God allow one of His children to remain or become sick? The clear answer of Scriptures is that He will be glorified by it! God uses illness sometimes to correct, to teach, and to give opportunity to other believers for service. Even when we cannot understand the why, it is undoubtedly part of God's plan for the greater good and unquestionably for even my own good. God is working "all things" for our good, even those things that we see as bad or negative.

Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Consider the case of Lazarus, a friend of Jesus. Jesus not only allowed him to remain sick for a time but even to die. Why? Why the suffering of not only Lazarus but even the mental anguish of his sisters? All for no other purpose than the glory of God!

Notably, it was not a lack of faith on behalf of Lazarus that caused him to remain sick, nor was it his faith that played any role in his temporary healing (for he was dead). This is a temporary healing because Lazarus was still to die again later.

John 11:1-15 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it." 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.

7 Then he said to his disciples, "Let us go back to Judea." 8 "But Rabbi," they said, "a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?" 9 Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." 11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up."

12 His disciples replied, "Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better." 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14 So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." (NIV)

John also recorded another major case, an individual who had a physical infirmity from birth. We do not know if it was a genetic defect or something caused by a specific disease; all we know is that this man had always been blind. Once again, the reason for all those decades of suffering and hardship is clearly proclaimed in the text - it was so God could be glorified through finally working in his life. It was not the man's timing for this to take place, but timing established by God alone.

John 9:1-3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. (NIV)

John 9:20-21 "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." (NIV)

The same goes for every person who has infirmity or illness now. If God desires to grant them physical restoration immediately and temporarily before death, He can and will, but if He desires that they bear this burden for a time, even until death, both are for His honor and glory.

Some claim a passage in James to guarantee immediate healing, so long as the elders of the church are involved.

James 5:14-16 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Those who turn this into a promise for immediate healing have missed a key portion of the text. It is "the Lord (who) will raise him up". This leaves the time and nature of the healing to our Lord and not to the person who is sick or even to the elders. Truly the "prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" but the nature of all truly God-centered prayer is found in the prayer that Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:10b ... your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (NIV)

In the Apostle Paul's case, God's will was that Paul would retain his physical infirmity for a specific purpose, namely that it would keep Paul from "becoming conceited". The wording of the passage, which follows, implies that this infirmity was not something Paul originally had, but that it was quite specifically "given" to him at a later date. While many people spend time speculating on what type of physical problem Paul might have had, far more diligence would be warranted on contemplating what we have been told. God could and did use something that would be perceived as a negative for a positive reason, ultimately for His glory. I, personally, believe that Paul was extraordinarily blessed in actually knowing the reason up front, something that we generally do not though sometimes we are allowed to discover over time. Regardless, the Lord's answer to Paul also stands for all believers; regardless of the reason, His grace is sufficient to get us through.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (NIV)

That this great Apostle could suffer "in the flesh" should come as no surprise. I don't think it was a minor annoyance as some might imagine by the word "thorn", thinking of some small thing. The word commonly translated "thorn" could also be translated as "a stake" or "a hook". God's call for his life - indeed His perfect plan for Paul's life - was that he would suffer for the cause of Christ.

Acts 9:15b-16 This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I [God] will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (NIV, parenthesis ours for clarification)

Paul's suffering included that imposed on him by fallen humanity, natural disasters including shipwreck, and illness, all for God's glory and purposes (i.e. 2 Corinthians 11:23-27). This man, who God enabled to do many miraculous healings of others, was himself taken in a major and prolonged illness. Certainly no one can accuse Paul of lacking faith so that he could not be immediately healed. Paul's healing came about in God's timing so that it would have its desired effect ( the case of the Galatians that the gospel would be preached to them!).

Galatians 4:13-14 As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14 Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. (NIV)

When illness comes, seek God, seek His healing, but most of all seek His will. He desires that you will have a life lived to the full - which He alone gets to define, for He is God and you are not.

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (NIV)

Every believer in this fallen world groans over the infirmities of our sin-tainted bodies. We lament our propensity to sin, we suffer illnesses and diseases, and we all endure the ultimate physical sickness that we are born dying. The telomeres in our DNA grow shorter by the day, until our cells cannot heal and we are forced to physically die. We long for the future redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:23-25 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (NIV)

Believers will endure (Revelation 3:10), will overcome (1 John 5:4-5), will persevere (Hebrews 12:1, James 1:4), and be fully healed at the resurrection - with no more inclination to sin and a new and perfect body that is forever untainted by sin. In the New Heavens and Earth, God will provide us everything we need for perfect healing, so that none will ever be sick again.

Revelation 22:1-3 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. (NIV)

As for you, my reader, I wish you the same salutation that the Apostle John used almost two millennia ago:

3 John 2-3 Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (NIV)

End Notes

1. Matthew 8:17 quotes from Isaiah 53:4 and specifically includes the physical healings that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry (i.e. Matthew 8:15-16) as being part of its fulfillment.

Matthew 8:17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases." (NIV)

While some try and claim this passage as being their own personal right, no such implication is found within the passage. Jesus' actions and words were all with purpose, clearly authenticating His claim to be the Messiah and His power over all things, including sin and death. The absolute banishment of sickness, a symptom of the sin that infects this world, is something that waits the final restoration of all things. Use of Isaiah 53:4 in Matthew in regards to specific immediate healings by no means restricted the context to exclude a future absolute fulfillment. While God's grace was shown in those immediate temporary healings, they all suffered later illness and infirmity; certainly 100% of them died by the malfunctioning of their physical bodies. Praise God that his salvation was only focused on the here and now, that there is a perfect and eternal healing to come!

Likewise, 1 Peter 2:24 also alludes to the prophecy of Isaiah 53. Here the focus, by context, is more specifically directed toward the spiritual healing that comes through salvation in Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:24-25 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (NIV)

Certainly all of the healing available is Christ is still in view within this passage by Peter. Verse 25 makes it clear who gets to choose the how and when - our entire being is entrusted to the "Overseer" of our souls.

2. The apostles (who where enabled by God to do some extraordinary healing miracles) did not have this as their focus. They are shown by the testimony of Scriptures to have spent far more time in focusing on reaching the lost with the gospel, and strengthening the church, than on physical healings. The temporary, which is passing away, is far less important than the eternal (i.e. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31). For those who claim that the miracles are necessary or beneficial for winning the lost, they miss the point. Jesus and the disciples did incredible miracles of healing all over the land of Israel; if the presence of these assure or contribute to people becoming true followers of Jesus the multitudes should have been calling for Jesus' release rather than "Crucify Him!" The miracles authenticated Jesus' claim to be Messiah and the claims of His apostles that they were sent by Him (even as God authenticated His prophets in the Old Testament by signs and wonders). Only those who believe will accept these claims.

3. Jesus had compassion on those who were sick, that came before him and that he came across - believer and unbeliever.

Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (NIV)

It is certain that there were other people in the region and even subsequently in the places Jesus had travelled that were sick. Jesus, as God, would have known of these people too and, if he desired, with a single word could have healed them all. Jesus chose only to heal some - namely all those who came before Him - this with a purpose, which authenticated His claims and illustrated His words. Jesus' words and actions were always in agreement, He spoke in parables; His life was lived out as a parable.

Matthew 13:34-35 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world." (NIV)

Luke 8:9-10 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, "'though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.' (NIV)

Only believers were meant to understand the parables Jesus spoke and did. Indeed, Jesus would not have been crucified if the rulers of this age had understood (1 Corinthians 2:8). While Jesus showed His compassion for the people by doing immediate healings, don't loose focus that His greater focus was an eternal harvest. It was to people who needed a Shepherd to whom the Lord of the Harvest desired to send workers (consider 1 Peter 2:24-25 as found in End Note 1 as well).

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2009